Blade desktops are one of those technologies that, like heads-up displays for PDAs and fuel cells for laptops, are occasionally glimpsed but never seem to reach their full potential.
We know they're great for trading floors: PCs are removed from under desks and effectively placed in the data centre, from where they can still drive up to four monitors each while removing a great deal of heat, noise, insecurity and inefficiency from the people. Not to mention the ease of management that is enabled when you stick a bunch of PCs together in a chassis.
ClearCube, the company that arguably created the blade desktop market, has enjoyed a relatively free ride until now. It counts IBM among its resellers, and for years it has enjoyed a relative lack of competition, helped along by a fistful of patents covering many of the challenges of bringing video signals from the data centre to the desktop.
Now HP has joined the fray with the ProLiant xw25p. This is basically a repurposed blade server (the BL25p) with some thin clients thrown in, device drivers, HP's Remote Graphics Software and an extra licence from Microsoft that allows remote desktop connections.
Anything approaching decent competition in this area has been a long time coming. HP has had the awkwardly named Consolidated Client Infrastructure but it is almost as difficult to find someone who can explain this as it is to pronounce; IBM has also made noises about client PCs, but has yet to follow through.
We've spoken to financial institutions who have been happy with their ClearCube blade desktop purchases. At private investment bank Insinger de Beaufort, the price of installing the ClearCube solution was only a little higher than the price of buying Dell PCs. In addition, buying Dell would also have required a power and air-conditioning upgrade to the trading floor. The clincher for Insinger was the potential savings on desk moves and the whole issue of security.
We have had some very mixed feedback from others, some of whom have been less than ecstatic about their ClearCube experience. Whether these are valid criticisms or not, HP's launch should herald some much-needed competition. We suspect we have seen the first signs of this with a lower-cost option from ClearCube in October. We hope to see more from both camps.